Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Damned by fame

Addison's Walk
...Lewis was a genius.  I was never in any doubt about that.  The first grown-up book I read voluntarily, when I was 14, was A Preface to Paradise Lost, in which Lewis tackled the hugely difficult subject of the English epic, and made it enchanting.  When I arrived at Magdalen College, Oxford, aged 17, I was overwhelmed to find Lewis there, and friendly.  We many times went the famous circuit of Addison's Walk and Lewis's obiter dicta remain with me for life.  ('Imagine if Wordsworth and Coleridge had gone to Oxford, not Cambridge: the whole of modern English literature would have been quite different.')

He had a rich, fruity laugh which boomed out, dispelling his underlying sadness.  He was a superb lecturer, beginning as he entered Magdalen hall, and continuing after he passed out of the door at the end, and his powerful voice faded away.

He was also an excellent tutor, and for most of his time at Magdalen did 24 hours a week, a heavy burden on top of his lecturing, particularly since he prepared his work conscientiously and listened tenderly to his pupils' essays. ....

Unfortunately Lewis damned himself at Oxford by becoming famous. ....

.... Run-of-the-mill dons do not like fame, especially on the airwaves, and Lewis — like his Magdalen contemporary, A.J.P. Taylor, and for the same reason — was denied a professorial chair.  In Lewis's case, the rejection was severe because his Christian teaching was intimately linked to his love and understanding of English literature.  They were mutually self-supporting. ....

He deserves his lasting appeal, and for three reasons.  First he was immensely well-read, delving into every corner of English literature with intelligence and sympathy, and squeezing from it moral qualities which had been hitherto unsuspected in many works.  Second, he had an enviable clarity, so that his meaning, even when making rarefied distinctions, always leaps from the page.  Thirdly, he had excellent judgment in both literature and theology, and combined them both in fascinating books which never condescend and are always a pleasure to read.  Alister McGrath gives us much food for thought in this dutiful, sound and worthy book. ....
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